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Celebrating a half-century of jazz

Conservatory plans free concerts to celebrate 50th anniversary

Scott Haas

Beginning this fall and continuing through 2020, the Jazz Studies Department of New England Conservatory is celebrating its 50th year of teaching and bringing jazz to Boston and beyond. Free events and ongoing programs are highlighting the great urban resource of NEC.

“We’ll start with providing a good introduction to the music,” Jazz Studies Chair Ken Shaphorst told the Banner, “telling the story of the music’s history through performances.”

Drummer Antonio Sanchez, an NEC alumnus, starts things off on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Jordan Hall, when he plays with Alan Pasqua and the NEC Jazz Orchestra. Famous for his score of  the cult film classic “Birdman,” Sanchez, who is Mexican-American, will be performing music as it relates to the experience of immigration.

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“Not every drummer can compose these great works,” said Shaphorst. “And anyone alive would probably enjoy hearing it!”

NEC embraces the spectrum of jazz, from funk-infused to experimental and improvisational, and its celebration will bring listeners to sounds that they may find surprisingly approachable.

On Friday, Oct. 18, for example, an appreciation of the legacy of pianist Cecil Taylor will be presented at Jordan Hall. The first half of the evening will be solo piano pieces performed by musicians influenced by Taylor’s groundbreaking work. The second half will feature ensembles focusing on poetry and dance.

Independently of these celebratory evenings, NEC hosts Dave Holland, a renowned bassist who arrives at NEC every semester as a visiting artist-in-residence. Holland’s residency schedule, with all events free and open to the public, includes an ensembles master class on Tuesday, Sept. 17 from 1:30–3 p.m. in Williams Hall; a master class on Thursday, Sept. 19 from 1–3 p.m. in Eben Jordan Rehearsal Room; and a “Music of Dave Holland” concert on Friday, Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Brown Hall.   

NEC’s  Jazz Studies Department is much more than a center for performing artists, and in its fifty year history the institution has taught and mentored countless musicians. And its offerings are not just for students enrolled, but for members of the Boston community and beyond.

For those who kindle a passion for jazz, but have not (as yet) emerged as musicians, NEC’s Jazz Department has an Extension Division offering classes, lessons and ensemble opportunities for adults.

On Saturdays, the department has what Shaphorst terms its Prep School for individuals high school age and younger.

“Kids come from all over,” Shaphorst said, “ and are invited to audition and try to make it into the band and an array of ensembles.”

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